fashion

Capturing the ambitious beauty of Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel shows

Published 27th September 2019
Procter was granted rare backstage access during the Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2010 show.
Credit: Simon Procter/Rizzoli
Capturing the ambitious beauty of Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel shows
Written by Emily Dixon, CNN
Artist and photographer Simon Procter began shooting fashion shows by accident.
It was a chance meeting with V Magazine co-founder James Kaliardos, that saw him photographing his first show 100 feet above the runway. The images, unusual for their vantage point and style, boosted his profile in the fashion world and earned him the chance to cover Milan and New York Fashion Weeks.
Procter's distinctive approach to runway photography -- shooting every conceivable angle before putting each photo together into one spectacular composite image -- led to a close relationship with Chanel, and in particular, the house's late creative director, Karl Lagerfeld.
A new book, "Lagerfeld: The Chanel Shows," compiles 10 years of runway photography, displaying Procter's style and the creative immensity of Lagerfeld's shows. "In the context of big fashion shows, they're the best, the biggest and the most ambitious," Procter said in a phone interview. "It's like installation art -- they're wondrous. You go in and they've built a waterfall or a beach with waves."
Procter considers his photography artwork, rather than works of journalism. His pieces, he explained, are "unusual in that they're not really documentary. I remodel them to represent the whole thing. They sum up better what happened than a normal photograph or video."
"It's a strange kettle of fish for an artist. People are very interested in what I do because it's Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld," he continued. "But the fact that they are Chanel shows, the association with that -- I can't complain, that's wonderful. I think within that I've created my own thing."
Procter's "own thing" often granted him almost unrivaled access to Lagerfeld's vision. In his book, he describes securing a position within the photographer's podium at Chanel's Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2010 show -- only for Lagerfeld himself to send for him and install him backstage.
There, he photographed the models as they prepared for, walked onto and departed from the runway, blending shots together to recreate the clamorous energy of the occasion. "It's very hard to take a bad photo backstage at a fashion show, with all the beautiful people and the best makeup artists in the world," Procter conceded. "But I'm going there to make a piece of my work."
The Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2018 show was a tribute to the city of Paris.
The Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2018 show was a tribute to the city of Paris. Credit: Simon Procter/Rizzoli
On other occasions, he wasn't quite so fortunate with his position, forcing him to improvise. At the Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2018 show, inside Paris' Grand Palais, Chanel created a backdrop that mirrored the streets of the city outside. However, for this spectacular show, Procter was situated behind "three dense rows of photographers and videographers," he wrote in the book.
"It was intensely frustrating to be in front of such a great image and not be in a position to capture it correctly," he continued. "I decided I could completely reconstruct the show, taking the large backdrop image of the Basilica and repeating it in the background. With many more days of work adding layers of atmosphere, and adding motion to the painted river, the artwork finally came together." The result? A runway show that looked like it took place along the banks of the Seine.
Procter's creative approach enabled him to elevate the shows he photographed beyond the constraints of reality -- and the constraints of wherever he happened to be standing -- whether adding real NASA footage to photos of a Chanel-branded rocket or melding together countless shots of model Lily-Rose Depp and Lagerfeld into an impossible hall of mirrors.
"I had limited time, and sometimes you get put in a position with nothing to see," Procter told CNN.
"The idea to go away and achieve something? That's the motivation as an artist."